He remains the finest catch of J5’s MC contingent.
Adam Kennedy 2009
Since Los Angeles alternative hip hoppers Jurassic 5 split in the wake of lukewarm 2006 album Feedback, the lack of hugely notable activity from their four MCs seemed to validate notions that the crew were much greater than the sum of collected parts.
With that in mind, it isn’t the wisest move conceivable for the title of the debut solo set from their most recognisable rapper, Chali 2na, to suggest that he is floundering outside his element.
A few pearls lurk in the depths, though, despite the fact, like most of his crew’s latter-day output, Fish Outta Water rarely approaches the simple genius of J5 signature tune Concrete Schoolyard.
Unshackled from the democratic dynamics of a group and noticeably without the aid of his erstwhile crewmates – save for DJ Nu-Mark, who produces two tracks – 2na flexes his range beyond so-called backpack rap.
And the weighty guestlist demonstrates 2na’s significant standing, the self-declared “friendly neighbourhood baritone” opening the vocal booth for an ambitious collection of cameos.
The combinations hit optimum congruity when the extra mouthpieces hail from comparable hip hop circles. For definitive evidence, skip straight to the suave Lock Shit Down, wherein golden-tongued New York conscious cat Talib Kweli is characteristically charismatic.
The divergences, meanwhile, are hit and miss. Dancehall star Beenie Man is almost superfluously employed on International. And when Marley brothers Damian and Stephen rough up the reggae-leaning firearms-featuring Guns Up, the results feel a touch out of sync.
At his best on deeper, personal subject matter, 2na shines brightest on Righteous Way, candidly examining how his parents’ failed partnership influenced his subsequent relationships over a beautiful, haunting sped-up Curtis Mayfield sample. Concluding semi-ballad 4 Be Be is effectively affecting, too, mourning a late cousin while wondering aloud how J5 escaped with their lives from a 2000 tour bus smash that left 2na with a metal plate in his head.
It’s not quite enough to establish Chali 2na’s name in the wider world without the mandatory suffix ‘of Jurassic 5’ for now, but with Fish Outta Water he remains the finest catch of the crew’s MC contingent.